Moldy or mildewed leather can look like a lost cause. The leather may be completely coated in a grayish fungus, and have a musty odor. At that point, many people toss the moldy shoes, boots, or belts into the trash can. But if that happens to a pair of finely crafted footwear or other prized leather, it’s a major loss. The good news is that most of the time you can salvage moldy leather. You can even renew it so it’s almost like new again.
Remove the Mold
Mold is a fungus that grows on organic material. That can include the natural leather of your fine boots and shoes. Before you get to work, wear a disposable dust mask so you don’t inhale the mold spores, and disposable latex gloves. To remove the mold, mix a cup of clean water with an equal amount of either white vinegar or lemon juice. Apply a small amount to a soft cloth to dampen it, and use that to wipe away the mold. Another option is to mix the cleaning solution in a spray bottle, apply it to the leather by spritzing it, and then wipe the mold off with a cloth. With either method, always first do a test on the leather in an inconspicuous place to make sure it does not cause any discoloration. Once it passes that test, you can repeat the process to remove the mold from all leather surfaces. Then let it air dry, away from direct heat.
Preventing Future Mold
Mold thrives in dampness and humidity. If the leather got moldy in a closet, there may still be mold growing inside that space. So don’t store shoes again in the same place where they developed mold until you have cleaned all the existing mold away. Otherwise the spores will migrate back to the leather and the problem will return. A dehumidifier can help make a space less attractive for mold and mildew. Mold and mildew spores cannot grow in an environment of high acidity. That’s why using a solution of lemon juice or vinegar kills the mold. Keeping shoes clean and polished and stored in a dry place helps to prevent mold from returning.
Restoring the Leather
After removing the mold and letting the shoes or other leather good dry, give the leather good surface protection. Use a high-quality leather conditioner made for fine leather. Rub it into the leather and let it soak in and dry, and then apply a good cream-style polish. Shoes or belts should shine up again when you polish and buff them, to give them a new lease on life. Store them in a dry place, clean them when they pick up mud and dirt, and polish them regularly to keep mold from developing. The steps and techniques are simple, easy, and inexpensive−and the results are rewarding. That’s everything you could hope for in a DIY project.